The Red Shoes

Moira Shearer

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January 17, 1926 - January 31, 2006
Ballet dancer Moira Shearer, who starred in movie The Red Shoes, has died aged 80.
The Scottish dancer died in an Oxford hospital on Tuesday, her broadcaster husband Ludovic Kennedy said.
"She was full of spirit and also she was very beautiful," he said. "She moved wonderfully gracefully as you would expect of a ballet dancer."
Kennedy said Shearer, whom he married in 1950, gradually become weaker after her birthday in January.
Movie fairytale
Born in Dunfermline in 1926, Shearer became a member of the Sadler's Wells Ballet school from the age of 14.
By 1946 she was proficient enough to dance a leading role in Les Sylphides and to play Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.
In 1948 she starred in classic movie The Red Shoes, based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a pair of bewitched red shoes that compelled the wearer to dance until she died.



Moira Shearer obituary Despite her acclaimed performance in The Red Shoes, Shearer took on only a few further movie roles, preferring professional dance to acting.
In 1949 she was a member of the Sadler's Wells Ballet as it made its first US appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House and subsequently toured the eastern United States and Canada.
Alternating in principal roles with prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn, Shearer was acclaimed by critics for her "wonderful skill and precision".
Later roles in films such as 1955's The Man Who Loved Redheads and 1960's Peeping Tom failed to match Shearer's iconic performance in The Red Shoes.
IT SAYS something significant about Moira Shearer’s career that, having become at only 22 one of the most famous ballerinas in the world, she chose in later years to define her occupation in her Who’s Who entry simply as “writer”. That is at least partly because, she said later, she loathed her most celebrated role, as the ballerina in the film The Red Shoes (1948). “I was forced into it”, she said, and found afterwards what she called a solid wall of prejudice against her ballet career, from audiences, critics and even other dancers.
Born in Dunfermline, Fife, in 1926, her full name was Moira Shearer King. Her first dancing lessons were received in Northern Rhodesia, where the family had temporarily moved during her childhood, but her main professional training was in London, first with Flora Fairbairn and then at the Legat and Sadler’s Wells schools.
She made her stage debut in 1941 with the newly formed International Ballet and joined Sadler’s Wells Ballet the following year. During her first season with that company she danced her first leading role, in Les Sylphides.
In 1943 she attracted much attention when Frederick Ashton, on leave from the RAF to create The Quest (based on Spenser’s The Fairy Queen), cast her as Pride in the Seven Deadly Sins episode. Other roles were created for her during the war by Ninette de Valois in Promenade, Robert Helpmann in Miracle in the Gorbals, and Andrée Howard in The Spider’s Banquet. She also took other parts as varied as a very smooth White Skater in Les Patineurs and a witty Polka in Façade.
When the Sadler’s Wells Ballet moved to Covent Garden in February 1946 and reopened the Opera House with a season of The Sleeping Beauty, Moira Shearer was given her first ballerina role as Princess Aurora, at first in matinee performances, but soon alternating with Fonteyn. She was also chosen by Ashton that same year as one of the three women in his creation of Symphonic Variations, the pure-dance work which set the seal on his inventive genius.
From an early age, Shearer had wanted to make her mark entirely by her ability as a dancer, and was unhappy at being singled out often for her exceptionally beautiful face and striking red hair. She was therefore somewhat doubtful about accepting an invitation to star in The Red Shoes, but was persuaded by de Valois that any success she achieved in this would be to the benefit of the company as a whole. In the event, the film achieved a fame beyond all expectations and her performance as the ballerina, acting as well as dancing, brought her international renown.
Her ballet roles, of course, had already involved the physical elements of acting, and luckily she had a good speaking voice. De Valois had been right in predicting that the film would make ballet more widely popular than ever.
Directly after completing it, however, Shearer returned to Covent Garden where, in 1948, she danced in two more creations by Ashton, as the Young Wife in Don Juan and in the title part of Cinderella, taking over the first performance of the latter from Fonteyn, who had suffered an injury.
By this time Shearer was already dancing also the ballerina roles in Coppelia and Swan Lake, and soon afterwards she danced her first Giselle. Leonide Massine chose to partner her when he mounted La Boutique Fantasque for the company, gave her another lead in Mam’zelle Angot and created a role for her in Clock Symphony. Her other leading parts included Julia in A Wedding Bouquet and the central roles in Sc ènes de Ballet, both by Ashton, and George Balanchine’s Ballet Imperial. She reported that Balanchine preferred her crisp, technical assurance in this to Fonteyn’s lyricism. In 1950 she appeared in Paris as guest star in Roland Petit’s Carmen.
Her next film was The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), in which she again had a dancing role. She was, however, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with her dancing career, probably because of a feeling that she was not taken seriously but tolerated for her looks and prestige. In 1952 she left the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (although she subsequently made a few guest appearances) and later danced for a short time with Festival Ballet.
She turned to acting, in the films The Story of Three Loves (1953) and The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955), then as Titania in a spectacular Old Vic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was mounted for the 1954 Edinburgh Festival and later toured Canada and the US. She and Helpmann, who was playing Oberon, also performed Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale at Edinburgh.
There followed a season with the Bristol Old Vic, where her roles included Shaw’s Major Barbara, and a tour as Sally Bowles in I Am A Camera. She also made two further films in 1960: dramatic in Peeping Tom and a dancing comeback as Roxanne in Petit’s Cyrano de Bergerac in the three-ballet film Black Tights.
However, she soon withdrew into private life. She had married Ludovic Kennedy in 1950 and now devoted herself to the duties of a wife and mother. There were, however, occasional lecture tours, individually or with her husband. She served on the Scottish Arts Council, 1971-73, and regularly reviewed books for The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Later she wrote two books: Balletmaster: A Dancer’s View of George Balanchine (1986), and a biography of Ellen Terry (1998).
During 1978, Shearer appeared in two further plays, nicely contrasted roles in The Cherry Orchard and Hay Fever, and in 1987 she played the mother of the painter L. S. Lowry in Gillian Lynne’s creation A Simple Man with Northern Ballet Theatre for BBC Television.
Her farewell appearance on stage was not until 1994, in a production of The Aspern Papers. Her last dancing role had been created specially for her by Peter Darrell, director of the Scottish Ballet, in Gold Diggers, for a Glasgow gala in 1980, leading all the men of the company in a high-kicking routine to an arrangement of Tea for Two.
Although she remained active in so many categories, it is as a dancer that Shearer will be remembered, especially as The Red Shoes still appears frequently on television.
Her early success in ballet did indeed arise partly from her looks. Even before she took leading roles, nobody could help noticing her. Once she had established herself, however, her glamour made a positive contribution to the works in which she appeared, and it was supported by an assured professionalism. She gave no evidence of great emotional depth in her performances, but in roles demanding a lyrical or classical purity she danced with exceptional facility and flair, which led several choreographers to make interesting use of her talents in new works.
She cut short her dancing career when she could have been expected to be approaching the peak of her abilities. By that time, however, she had already made a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the national and international standing of ballet.
She is survived by her husband, and by a son and three daughters.
Moira Shearer, ballet dancer and actress, was born on January 17, 1926. She died on January 31, 2006, aged 80.

Home | Cast | Cast photographs | The film | The ballet | The story | Making the film |
Little known facts abiout the film
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